A/N: The Christmas hols are over, but I thought I'd post this story over here at PhoenixSong. :-) I hope you lot like it.
"…and the ruby means… what, Ron? Harry?"
Hermione looked up and found that both of her best friends were paying absolutely no attention to her.
Ron was predictably asleep, drooling into his Potions textbook, and Harry was otherwise… preoccupied.
He was staring at his ex-girlfriend, Ginny Weasley, who was chatting animatedly with her dorm-mates as they decorated a small Christmas tree standing in one corner of the Gryffindor common room with enchanted snow and tiny golden candles.
"Oh, honestly!" Hermione reached over and rapped Ron sharply on the forehead with the edge of her Potions book.
The redhead shifted slightly before his eyes opened. "Whuzzat?" he yawned, scratching at his forehead.
"Wake up, Ron. We're supposed to be revising for Potions," said Hermione irritably. "In case you don't remember, Professor Slughorn said we were going to have a test on gemstone-based elixirs when we come back after the holidays."
"Hermione!" Ron complained, stretching his long arms over his head. "We're leaving for Christmas break tomorrow! We can study for the exam when we come back."
"Why wait? Don't you want to get good marks this year? I mean, it was awfully nice of Professor McGonagall to let us complete our seventh year after all we've missed, so it's only right that we do our best to show her how grateful we are. Isn't that right, Harry?"
Harry reluctantly tore his gaze from Ginny and turned to face Hermione, who was looking at him with a sympathetic gleam in her eyes.
"Yeah," he said half-heartedly, not really knowing what he was agreeing to. His eyes immediately flicked back to watch Ginny as she laughed at something her friend had said.
Harry, Hermione and Ron had not come back to Hogwarts during the start of the present term, having decided to try and find the remaining Horcruxes. They had found numerous clues but had not succeeded in discovering any.
When a promising lead as to the whereabouts of Slytherin's locket (involving a goblin gambling lord and Mundungus Fletcher's penchant for backing the wrong flobberworm in the highly illegal world of flobberworm racing) turned into a dead end, Harry had reluctantly agreed with Hermione and Ron that maybe they should go back to where Voldemort began his quest for immortality – Hogwarts – and try to see if the Dark Lord had left any hints within the stone walls of the castle. At the very least, Hermione had pointed out eagerly, they could make use of the massive amounts of information hidden away in the Hogwarts library to aid them in their search.
Professor McGonagall had not been surprised when they had knocked on her door late one evening towards the end of November. Although the former Transfiguration teacher asked them what had delayed their re-entry into Hogwarts, she did not pursue the matter when Harry, hoping that the mention of Professor Dumbledore's name would stave off any more questions, had mumbled a vague story about fulfilling an obligation to the previous Headmaster. The only sign that indicated that Professor McGonagall was suspicious of the whole matter was the noticeable thinning of her lips. Nevertheless, she granted the three of them special latitude and had handed them their time-tables for the seventh year with the stern admonition that she fully expected them to catch up with the rest of their classmates.
Harry had been disturbed at how few students had come back. The Patil twins were gone, as well as Hannah Abbot and Orla Quirke. Numerous other people from different years and Houses had pulled out of Hogwarts. Harry was glad, however, to find that all his original dorm-mates had returned. Neville had greeted him with quiet enthusiasm, and even Dean Thomas had spoken to him when Harry inquired about the standing of the West Ham football team. Seamus Finnigan regaled them with the tale of the shouting match he had with his parents, which had culminated in tears and a demand from his mother that he make a trip to kiss the Blarney Stone for good luck before he was allowed to return to Hogwarts for his final year.
Ginny's reaction to their return had been baffling for Harry. She had hit her brother lovingly on the arm and embraced Hermione joyfully, but only smiled and nodded at Harry, which thoroughly confused and irritated him. He thought they had parted on good terms; she had been friendly enough at Bill's wedding and had even danced with him at the reception. He had not mentioned their plans to search for the Horcruxes, but something in Ginny's eyes told him that she already knew that they were up to something. She had not asked any questions and left him with a chaste kiss on the cheek, before turning and accepting the next dance from one of Fleur's smarmy cousins. Harry had spent countless hours during their time away daydreaming about Ginny and the myriad ways he could have erased the lascivious smirk plastered on the French bloke's pasty face while he was twirling Ginny around on the dance floor.
Harry had come to the realisation that he had made a colossal mistake in breaking up with her.
His rash decision seemed even more pointless when Hermione opined that Draco Malfoy had most certainly informed Voldemort about Harry's relationship with Ginny. Ron had shrewdly added that since Harry had broken up with Ginny after Dumbledore had died, then for all intents and purposes, the Dark Lord probably still believed that Harry and Ginny were still a couple.
Now, he had been back at Hogwarts for almost a month and Ginny seemed perfectly content to just remain friends. He was at a loss on how to tell her that he wanted to resume their relationship and despaired that she would never know that he loved her, Voldemort be damned.
He missed her so much.
"Just tell her already, Harry," said Hermione softly, interrupting his reverie. She put her book down on the table, nodding encouragingly.
Harry looked at Ron in surprise. His best friend had a peculiar expression on his face – a cross between concern and amusement.
"Your spot-on imitation of Moaning Myrtle is driving me nuts. Ginny still feels the same way about you, you know."
"How can you be so sure, Ron?" asked Harry dubiously.
"I just am," said Ron with an air of finality. "I've been watching her ever since we came back, and she has that same look in her eyes that you get whenever you see her. You know–" Ron adopted a forlorn air, "–the lovesick puppy look?" He chuckled when Harry protested feebly. "Besides, I need to win back the five Sickles I put in the House pool that you two would get back together before the hols are over."
"Ron!" Hermione gasped. "Harry's lovelife is not something you should be wagering on!"
Harry did not know whether he should feel insulted or thrilled by the fact that Ron had put in that much of his meagre funds simply because he believed that Ginny still had feelings for Harry. He decided that it was a sign that he should finally gather up his vaunted courage and do something to remedy his miserable situation. He was rising from his chair when the faint scent of flowers made him abruptly sit down again.
"Hi," said Ginny brightly, settling down beside Hermione and making Harry's stomach do flip-flops as she was now sitting directly in front of him. Ginny peered at the Potions book, which was still open to the page on gemstone-based elixirs. "Oh, what a coincidence; we're discussing the meanings of semi-precious stones in Muggle Studies right now. Each month supposedly has a birthstone, and each stone is uniquely significant, right?"
"Yes, that's precisely what we–"
"We should be planning what fun activities we're going to do at The Burrow," Ron rudely interrupted Hermione, who glared at him. "Not revising like some kind of desperate know-it-all."
Ginny rolled her eyes at Harry and grinned. Harry gawked at her for a moment before grinning back. Ginny always knew how to make him laugh.
"For example, Ron, since you were born in March, your traditional birthstone's the aquamarine," she said loudly, forestalling the brewing argument. "It supposedly bestows courage, insight, and, believe it or not–" Ginny paused and giggled, "–sensitivity."
Hermione let out an expressive snort, and Harry laughed loudly.
"Hey!" Ron looked indignant. "I'm a sensitive bloke!"
"Right, you're about as sensitive as a Blast-Ended Skrewt," Hermione muttered.
"Oh yeah?" Ron scowled and turned to his sister. "What about her birthstone, the sapphire?"
Everyone gaped at Ron.
"How do you know that?" Ginny asked him, looking slyly at Hermione who was turning pink around the ears.
"Please," Ron waved a hand impatiently in the air, "her birthday's on September nineteen, so her birthstone's a sapphire."
Ginny and Harry exchanged amused glances as Hermione became pinker and ducked her head to hide a delighted smile.
"Well, simply put, the sapphire is a symbol of wisdom," said Ginny.
Ron slapped the table in triumph. "See, even your birthstone says that you're a know-it-all."
Hermione's smile vanished. She stood up rapidly, almost knocking her chair to the floor. She nodded curtly to Harry and Ginny, then stomped up the girls' stairs, leaving Ron to stare confusedly at her retreating form.
"What did I do?" he asked.
"Oh, Ron," said Ginny despairingly. "If you don't know, then maybe you should go to bed and think about it. You don't want Hermione to spend the entire Christmas break angry with you, right?"
Ron's eyebrows knit together. "Yeah, but what did I do?" he repeated, looking at Harry for help.
Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Ginny laid a hand on his arm to stop him, effectively shutting down all his coherent thought processes. He shrugged helplessly at Ron, who frowned again and rose from the table.
"Right. See you two in the morning."
As Harry watched Ron grumpily march up the stairs to the boys' dormitories, he quickly became aware that except for a couple of fifth-year girls who were gossiping by the fireplace, he and Ginny had the entire room to themselves. Harry glanced at Ginny, who was now flipping through Hermione's Potions book with one hand and absentmindedly playing with her long red tresses with the other. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves; this was the first time since he had come back that he had been alone with her.
"Ginny?" he said, wincing at the uncertainty in his voice.
"Yes?" Ginny closed the book and looked up at him. Harry was quite unprepared for the jolt that ran through him when he met Ginny's clear brown gaze. Had her eyes always been that luminous shade of hazel?
He cleared his throat and promptly forgot what he was going to say. He floundered around for a topic. "Um, well, what about me?"
She raised a ginger eyebrow. "What about you?" she asked, sounding like she very much wanted to laugh.
Harry mentally kicked himself. He thought hunting for Horcruxes was tricky enough; apparently a simple conversation with Ginny Weasley was infinitely more difficult.
"Erm, I meant, what about my birthstone? What does it stand for?"
Ginny tugged at a lock of her hair and nibbled on it, the familiar gesture reminding Harry of happy days spent by the lake.
"Hmmm… well, the ruby is dead useful. My Muggle Studies professor says that it can cure many ailments, including indigestion, poor circulation, and, uh, female problems," she said with a playful smile. "It's also supposedly excellent for shielding one's mind from psychic attacks," she continued, looking at him thoughtfully. "Its rich red colour also speaks of fire, passion, and..."
Ginny's voice dropped to a whisper and Harry had to lean forward to catch the last word.
Harry stared at Ginny, who had let her curtain of hair fall forward, obscuring her face. His heart pounded in his ears.
Was Ginny trying to tell him that she still felt the same way about him?
Hesitantly, he reached out and brushed her hair off her cheek. "Ginny?"
She peered up at him from under her lashes, looking uncharacteristically anxious.
"D'you suppose – I mean, would you consider – um – bugger," Harry swore, pushing his glasses up his nose nervously.
Ginny chuckled softly but otherwise remained silent.
Harry closed his eyes to calm himself. He could not afford to bungle this opportunity to tell her how he felt. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the serious expression on her pretty face and resolved to confess his feelings once and for all.
"I made a mistake when I said we needed to be apart," he began, "and these past months have been absolutely ghastly. I've missed you terribly." He covered her hand with his. "I've missed us," he said fiercely. "D'you think we can try again?"
She pursed her lips, sending him into a mild panic, but he forced himself to wait for what she had to say.
"Harry," she said slowly, "where have you three been all this time?"
Harry grimaced and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses with his free hand. He had been expecting her to ask that question, but he still had no idea how to answer her. Hermione had urged him to inform Ginny of their task, saying that she had the right to know and that she could be of valuable help in their hunt. Harry saw the logic in his best friend's argument, but part of him still stubbornly insisted that he needed to protect his Ginny.
He must have waited too long in replying because the next thing he knew, Ginny had extracted her hand from under his and had risen from her chair, a disappointed look in her eyes. "Good night, Harry," she said coolly, and started for the stairs.
Harry hastily stood up and caught her wrist. "Ginny, wait," he pleaded when she frowned and tugged at her hand. "I'll… I'll tell you. I just need to gather my thoughts. This could take all night." He let her hand go. "Please?"
"What do you mean all night?" Ginny sounded sceptical, but Harry was relieved when she sat down again. He dragged his chair closer to hers until their knees were almost touching. Leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table, he began his story, leaving nothing out.
By the time he ended his tale, the fifth-year girls had already wandered sleepily up to their beds, and the fire had burned down into smouldering embers, bathing the common room in a muted orange glow. He shifted uneasily when she remained silent, a pensive look on her face as she stared at him.
"Ginny?" He started to reach for her hand, but thought better of it, and settled for pushing his glasses up his nose again.
She blinked, as if she had forgotten that he was there. "Well, I can't say that I'm surprised. Tom was always a bit obsessed with the idea of living forever. He mentioned it several times in the diary," she reflected, then looked at him contemplatively. "Do you have any idea where these things are?"
Harry shook his head and let out a small sigh of relief. She did not seem to be angry with him.
"And do you know how to destroy them when you find them?"
He shook his head again. Tentatively, he began to inch his hand towards hers.
"So you broke up with me so that you could go gallivanting into the world without any plan whatsoever on how to retrieve them and what to do when you manage to find them?"
His hand stilled at the steely look that she levelled at him. "Erm, we were hoping that we'd know what to do when the time came?" he said sheepishly.
"Stupid prat." Ginny rolled her eyes. "I don't know which is worse, you mollycoddling me or you three going totally unprepared to face down bloody pieces of Tom's soul. What if Hermione or Ron had been hurt? What if you'd been killed? How d'you think I'd feel?"
Harry thought her questions sounded strangely familiar, then realised that they were almost the exact same words he had uttered during Dumbledore's funeral.
"I'm sorry." Harry leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "I knew my leaving would be difficult for you. The fact Ron and Hermione insisted on coming along made things more complicated, but they already knew about the prophecy and the Horcruxes. My reasoning then was that if you didn't know the details of what we were up to, then you wouldn't worry about us so much. I simply couldn't deal with the idea of anyone I loved – never mind me – getting injured, most especially you. I only wanted to make sure that Voldemort wouldn't hurt you again. I don't know what I'd do if he took you away from me."
He ran a frustrated hand through his hair and looked at her intently. "But when Hermione pointed out to me that The Burrow could be attacked at any time because Voldemort knew about you Weasleys being in the Order, all I could think of was that something might happen to you and that I could be too far away to do anything about it."
"I do not need to be protected, Harry. I can take care of myself," said Ginny, folding her arms across her chest. "And besides, what makes you think I would have wanted to go with you three in the first place? I might have wanted to stay behind and take care of Mum and Dad."
Harry shot her such a disbelieving look that she actually smiled a little.
"Oh all right, I would've insisted on coming along," she admitted grudgingly. "But still, it hurts to think that you didn't trust me enough to tell me of your plans," she said, her smile disappearing. "I could've helped, you know."
"Ginny, it wasn't that I didn't trust you. It's just that Professor Dumbledore said not to tell anyone about the Horcruxes except for Ron and Hermione," he explained apologetically, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "As I said, I thought that the less you knew, the less chance there was of you getting hurt."
She frowned. "But you just told me that you recognise that I'm in danger whether I knew anything or not."
"Yes, but I only realised that recently." Harry exhaled deeply. "That's why I decided to tell you everything. I can't do this without you."
He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently.
"I need you, Ginny."
She stared down at their joined hands. "I don't know why I still like you so much, Harry," she murmured, causing happiness to swell inside him. Her next words however, brought his spirits crashing to the ground. "But I'm afraid that…"
He held his breath and waited, hoping that she would not say that he had missed his chance to mend their relationship.
"I'm afraid that you're going to have to prove to me that you're worth going back to," said Ginny gravely.
Harry looked at her worriedly. "How am I supposed to do that?"
Her lips slowly curved up into a mischievous smile.
"You're going to have to woo me, Harry."
* * *
"Woo her?" Ron stared blankly at Harry. "What the bloody hell does that mean?"
"I'm not sure," replied Harry, his voice muffled due to the fact that he was lying face down on his pillow, "but Hermione said that Ginny wants me to court her."
"Court her?" repeated Ron. "Really?"
Due to the fact that his best friend had already been asleep when Harry had finally trudged up the stairs to their dormitory, and had been quite busy apologizing to Hermione right before they Flooed to The Burrow via Professor McGonagall's fireplace, it was only now that Harry had been able to inform Ron of the outcome of his late-night conversation with Ginny.
"But Harry, doesn't courting someone mean that… well, you know…" Ron trailed off uncertainly.
Harry raised his head and looked at Ron, who was frowning slightly. "No, I don't know. What does it mean?" he asked warily.
He was already having a hard enough time racking his brains for any ideas on how to win Ginny back. The only help he had got came from an unlikely source; he had spotted The Modern Wizard's Guide to Old-Fashioned Courtship Rituals by Beauregard Valentyn on Seamus' nightstand and had borrowed it from the Irish boy, promising to treat it with the reverence it deserved.
He had only skimmed through the first chapter ("So, You Want To Go A-Wooing…") and so far he had not read anything that seemed to be of any importance except for a few general tips on the importance of good grooming, personal hygiene and still having all of your original teeth. Harry was not too sure about the author's expertise on the matter; the photo on the back of the book showed a balding, middle-aged man with a noticeable paunch and a harelip that became more prominent each time he smiled at the camera. Still, it was better than nothing.
He wished that Hermione was there to tell him what to do, but she had decided to spend more time with her family. He could not begrudge her that.
"Are you sure about this? Because in the Wizarding world, when you formally court someone, it's usually understood that it'll all end in a marriage proposal," said Ron, looking intently at Harry.
All the air abruptly whooshed out of Harry's lungs.
Was that what Ginny wanted?
Was that what he wanted?
He tried to imagine having a family with Ginny and was startled when a very clear image of a giggling redheaded girl with glasses and green eyes popped into his head.
Harry swallowed heavily. If he managed to defeat Voldemort, then maybe…
"I'm not making any promises, Ron," he said, choosing his words carefully, "but I love your sister, and if I survive my next encounter with Voldemort," – Ron grimaced at this – "then yes, I think that maybe I would like to marry her."
Ron stared at Harry for about five seconds before a huge grin appeared on his freckled face. "You've got it bad, mate." He stood up and clapped Harry on the back. "So, we need to work on your wooing style, Harry, 'cause frankly, it's bloody awful."
"Thanks a lot," said Harry dryly, feeling a rush of emotions course through him at Ron's tacit approval. It meant a lot to him that his oldest and best friend supported his relationship with Ginny. He knew how protective Ron could be of the youngest Weasley.
Speaking of overprotective brothers...
"Ron," he said urgently, "I'd like to speak to your parents first, all right? If your brothers only knew what I'm planning, I'd be in loads of trouble, right?"
"Bill and Charlie would probably be okay with it, but the twins…"
"Lunch!" Mrs. Weasley announced from downstairs.
"Great, I'm starving!" Ron headed for the door. "C'mon, Harry, we'll plan out your strategy later."
* * *
To Harry's dismay, the twins were sitting at the kitchen table when he and Ron entered the room.
"Hello, children," greeted Fred, waving an arm covered in blinding chartreuse dragon-hide.
Harry sat down opposite George (who was wearing an identical brightly coloured jacket as Fred) just as Ginny waltzed into the kitchen, wearing jeans and a black turtleneck sweater that set off the rich cinnamon of her hair.
"Gred! Forge!" She threw her arms around them. "Come to mooch a meal from Mum again?"
"Hey, can't a bloke visit his home without being suspected of ulterior motives?" replied Fred as he returned Ginny's embrace.
"Yeah," chimed in George. "Why would you propose such a thing?" He sent Harry an evil grin.
Oh no, there is no bloody way that he could know, could he? Harry had the sinking sensation that the twins knew exactly what he and Ron had been talking about a while ago.
Ginny snorted. "That's because I know you two." She went over to the other side of the table.
Harry was startled when Ron unexpectedly kicked him under the table.
"What was that for?" hissed Harry.
Ron's response was to look pointedly at the seat his sister was heading for.
After rubbing his throbbing shin for a few bewildered seconds, comprehension suddenly dawned and Harry jumped up to hurriedly pull out the chair for Ginny, waiting until she was comfortable before sitting down beside her. He flushed when the twins traded calculating glances and Ron gave him a not-so-discreet thumbs up, but felt that it was all worth it when Ginny smiled at him.
"Thanks, Harry," she said softly.
"What a gentleman, eh, Fred?" said George, elbowing his brother.
"Charming, George," answered Fred. "Why, you put the rest of us to shame with your courtly manners, Harry!"
Harry choked on his pumpkin juice, and Ginny pounded his back in concern. She glared at the twins, who were sniggering as Harry wiped his mouth with a serviette.
"Shut it," she warned, continuing to rub small circles on Harry's back. By this time, he had already stopped spitting up pumpkin juice but was enjoying himself so much that he let out an occasional cough just to ensure that she kept her hand right where it was.
Sadly, Ginny moved away when Mrs. Weasley placed a heaping platter of pork chops in front of them, and Harry had to content himself with the occasional brush of her shoulder against his as they enjoyed the delicious food that Mrs. Weasley had prepared. He made sure to keep Ginny's glass filled with pumpkin juice, ignoring the twins when they made kissing noises from across the table.
When Ginny began to clear the dishes, Harry offered to help, thinking that he could use the time alone with her to determine what she really meant when she said that he would have to woo her.
"Oh no, we'll do the washing up," volunteered George.
Mrs. Weasley nearly dropped the bowl of leftover salad that she was holding.
"Yes, it's the least we can do," agreed Fred, levitating dishes and directing them towards the sink. He winked at Harry, who felt his face heating up again.
"Why don't you go for a nice, long walk? It's quite lovely outside this time of the year!" George began herding Harry and Ginny towards the back door.
Fred quickly grabbed hold of Ron's sweater when the latter also began to leave. "Not you, Ronniekins," he said, cutting off Ron's protests by thrusting a tea towel at him. "You're in charge of drying the dishes."
"George!" Ginny dragged her feet as her brother pushed her. She looked torn between irritation and amusement. "It's freezing out there! I need my coat!"
"I'll get it for you, Ginny. I need to get mine too," offered Harry, hoping he could sneak upstairs for a second to see if Valentyn had any advice on what to do during nice, long walks.
"Nonsense!" George flicked his wand over his shoulder. "Accio Ginny's and Harry's coats!"
The garments zoomed into Harry's chest, almost knocking him over.
"There you go. See you two later." With a benevolent smile, George shoved them out to the porch and shut the door firmly in their faces.
"Stupid brothers," Ginny muttered, rubbing her hands together. "Hand me my coat, will you? It's cold!"
Harry helped her into her white pea jacket, surreptitiously leaning forward to take in the scent of the floral shampoo that he loved so much. Ginny suddenly turned around and he hastily pulled his head back, his ears burning. He struggled into his own coat to cover up his embarrassment. When he fumbled with the buttons, Ginny laughed and batted his hands away.
"Let me do it," she said, skilfully doing up the buttons. "There, all done."
She looked up at him, and Harry shivered despite being bundled up in his warmest coat.
Merlin, she's gorgeous, he thought, his eyes roaming over her fair face.
To his delight, a rosy blush appeared on Ginny's cheeks. She ducked her head to fiddle with the sleeves of her coat.
Taking heart at her reaction, he boldly offered his arm. "Fancy that walk, then?"
* * *
After touring the snow-blanketed orchard several times, they headed back to the warm Burrow, laughing as their teeth chattered uncontrollably in the frigid air. Ginny told him that she was going to soak in a hot bath for a while, and they parted at the door of her room, Harry fighting the urge to kiss her nose, which was still slightly red from the cold. Instead, he squeezed her hands and drifted up to Ron's room with a foolish smile on his face.
"How was your walk, lover boy?" asked Ron, not looking up from his book, which Harry bemusedly recognised as The Modern Wizard's Guide to Old-Fashioned Courtship Rituals.
"Spectacular!" Harry flung himself onto his bed and sighed happily. He was encouraged by the fact that Ginny had been very relaxed with him, even when they had inevitably wandered onto the topic of the Horcruxes and their possible hiding places. She had suggested several locations based on what she remembered from Tom Riddle's diary, and Harry was starting to believe more and more that Ginny would be of invaluable help in his quest.
Ron grunted and bit off the head of a Chocolate Frog. "I reckon Fred and George are going to give you a hard time about this whole courting thing," he said, chewing noisily.
Harry groaned. "How'd they find out?"
"Dunno. But I wouldn't put it past them to have a couple of Extendable Ears lying around."
When Harry stood up and began searching the room, Ron said, "I already checked. There's nothing here."
Harry sat down, thinking hard. He was never going to get a moment's rest with those twin menaces around, so he would simply try to avoid them as much as possible and go ahead with his plan to woo Ginny. The problem was that he still had no idea what to do.
"Ron, you said you were going to help me with my wooing techniques."
"You seemed to be holding your own during lunch," said Ron, turning a page and smirking.
"C'mon, I need something better than that. Besides, I have to work on my proposal."
Ron looked up sharply. "You serious, then?"
Harry paused as the implications of his statement hit him. Nothing had seemed right in his life until Ginny had finally started talking to him again. Recalling the way her eyes had sparkled as she laughed and the way the sunlight had turned her hair into a fiery halo, Harry decided that yes, he did want to spend the rest of his life with Ginny Weasley.
"I want to marry Ginny," he said firmly, looking his best friend in the eye.
"Good," Ron nodded solemnly. "So, what kind of ring are you getting?"
Harry bolted up from the bed. "A ring?" he croaked. "Where the heck am I gonna get a ring?"
Ron shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno, but this Valentyn fellow says that the engagement ring's as important as the wedding ring." He turned a few more pages. "Look at all this stuff he wrote. Bloke really knows his material, even if he looks like Grawp," mumbled Ron, becoming wholly engrossed in the book.
"Did you know that flowers also have their own meanings? A red rose is a profession of true love, while a dark crimson one means that you're in mourning."
"I wonder what a honking daffodil symbolises…"
"Yeah?" said the redhead, looking surprised.
"Ring?" Harry prompted. "Where can I get one?"
"Maybe you should ask my parents," said Ron distractedly, already turning his attention back to the book.
Harry sighed in defeat. Oh well, I was going to ask their permission to court Ginny anyway.
He left an oblivious Ron and descended to the living room, where he had seen Mrs. Weasley knitting when he and Ginny had come back from their walk. Sure enough, Mrs. Weasley was ensconced on the sofa, her needles clicking rhythmically in time to a Celestina Warbeck tune on the wireless, a cup of tea at her elbow. Harry was a bit surprised to see Mr. Weasley sitting in an opposite armchair, reading the Daily Prophet.
Mr. Weasley looked up and nodded pleasantly. "Harry, how are you?"
"Hello dear," said Mrs. Weasley, beaming at him. "Arthur was able to finish work early." She patted the seat beside her. "Care to join us?"
Harry smiled back nervously and sat down. He cleared his throat. "Mrs. Weasley…" he haltingly began, but jumped up when he felt something twitch underneath him. Harry looked down to discover that he had nearly squished Errol.
"Oh, Errol," Mrs. Weasley scolded the old family owl. "Sorry, dear. He likes to keep me company." She placed Errol on a side table. The bird promptly slumped over, fast asleep. "What were you saying, Harry?"
"Erm, I was wondering if you knew any good jewellery shops?" he asked timidly.
"Hmmm… there's one in Diagon Alley which sells lovely pieces," she said, taking up her knitting again.
"Oh." Harry cleared his throat again. "Um, d'you suppose I could go there tomorrow for some last-minute Christmas shopping?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
"Are you buying something for a special someone?" she asked, the corners of her mouth twitching slightly. Mr. Weasley gave an amused little cough from behind his paper.
Harry felt himself blushing. "Erm, as a matter of fact, I am," he said, deciding that he might as well tell them since it seemed that everyone already knew about his plans.
He took a deep breath. "Mr. Weasley, Mrs. Weasley, I'd like to ask your permission to formally court your daughter."
Mr. Weasley put down his Prophet and looked at Harry carefully for a few seconds before he smilingly nodded his assent. Mrs. Weasley dropped her needles and reached over to envelop him in a hug.
"My dear, we've always wanted you to become officially part of the family."
* * *
Harry looked up from the floor of the Leaky Cauldron to see a purple-haired Nymphadora Tonks grinning at him. She had volunteered to accompany Harry on his little excursion to Diagon Alley after Mrs. Weasley had contacted Order headquarters.
"Hello, Harry," said a mild voice behind Tonks. Remus Lupin held out his hand and helped Harry to his feet.
A few seconds later, Tonks was cheerily greeting Ginny as the younger girl stepped out of the fireplace. Harry had been dismayed when Ginny had insisted on coming along with him, saying that she had to do some last-minute Christmas shopping of her own. When he had tentatively suggested that she might want to stay home and rest, Ginny's eyes had blazed dangerously, so Harry wisely did not pursue the matter. Ron had stayed behind, insisting that he needed to finish reading a particularly vital chapter of The Modern Wizard's Guide to Old-Fashioned Courtship Rituals.
As Harry brushed the soot off his robes, an idea suddenly came to him. Drawing the werewolf to one side, Harry briefly explained why he was going to Diagon Alley and how Ginny's presence could potentially ruin all of his plans. "Now, if we could only get her out of the way…"
He glanced over at the redheaded girl, who was talking excitedly with Tonks about the latest Weird Sisters hit song My Broomstick's Bigger Than Your Broomstick, which was currently banned in France, Italy, and for some strange reason, Shropshire and Kent.
"Leave it to me and Nymphadora," said Remus in a conspiratorial undertone.
Thanking him, Harry walked back to Ginny, who smiled at him when he came to stand by her side. Despite the fact that he was a bit worried that she might divine the real reason why they were at Diagon Alley, he could not help but admire of the way she looked today. Her hair fell in soft waves around her face, and her olive green cable-knit pullover accentuated her curves.
"Where to, Harry?" asked Ginny as they entered Diagon Alley. Harry carefully scanned the area to see if there was anything to be alarmed about. Notwithstanding the festive decorations, the streets were unusually deserted, and the few shoppers there were all wore bleak looks on their faces. A few feet behind them, Remus and Tonks also warily scrutinized their surroundings for suspicious activity. A flash of light suddenly startled him, but it was only the bright winter sunlight reflecting off the numerous earrings that adorned Tonks' left ear.
They decided to visit Quality Quidditch Supplies first. After Harry bought Ron the newest Chudley Cannons poster and Ginny had purchased a Puddlemere United hat ("To irritate the heck out of Ron"), they wandered through the streets, stopping now and then to look at the fancy window dressings. Harry noted grimly that Ollivander's and Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour remained boarded up.
When they passed a small florist stand selling everlasting blooms, Harry, remembering what Ron had told him, picked out a single red rose and presented it to Ginny, who coloured prettily.
"Lovely choice, guv'nor," approved the white-haired vendor, handing Harry his change.
Harry glanced at Ginny, who was delicately sniffing the flower, her face a picture of contentment.
"I know," he acknowledged, earning him a toothless grin from the elderly wizard.
"Very smooth, Harry," called out Tonks as she and Remus caught up with them.
"I try," was his cheeky answer, which made Ginny laugh and hit him on the shoulder.
"Well, smooth operator, I'm dragging Ginny to Madam Malkin's to show her some robes, all right?" Tonks winked at Harry as she linked arms with the redheaded girl.
"All right," he said gratefully. "We'll meet you back at the Leaky Cauldron for tea, yeah?"
"Okay." Ginny stood on her toes and gave him a lingering kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for the rose, Harry." She and Tonks giggled at his gobsmacked expression, and then they waved and strolled away.
Harry came back to himself when Remus politely cleared his throat. He turned to see the werewolf smiling fondly at him. "Let's go get your ring, Harry."
* * *
By carefully following Mrs. Weasley's directions, Harry and Remus soon found themselves inside Elspeth's Finest Jewellery (est. 999 ¼ B.C.). Harry was overwhelmed by the posh interiors: from the walls covered in plush purple velvet to the floor carpeted in a deep violet pile so thick that Harry's feet literally sank into it. Oddly enough, the only furnishings were three gilded chairs arranged around a small glass-topped table in the middle of the room.
Harry and Remus were looking uncertainly around when a tall, stylish woman, her sleek black hair in an elegant chignon, appeared from a previously hidden doorway. Her long, flowing black robes made it seem like she was floating, rather than walking, towards them.
"Mr. Potter. Mr. Lupin." Harry wondered how she knew their names as he and Remus settled into the golden seats. She served them tea from the service that had materialized onto the table. She stepped back and inclined her head graciously. "Please stay here while I call Madam Elspeth."
Harry leaned over to whisper to Lupin. "That wasn't Elspeth?"
"No," a brusque voice boomed from the doorway, "I am."
The witch who strode into the room was the complete opposite of the one who had just left. She was very short, with frizzy white hair, startling violet eyes and more wrinkles than Harry could count. She wore plain brown robes and carried an evil-looking Crup under one arm.
"This is Duke Archibald Wilberforce Greer LXXXVIII," announced Madam Elspeth, thrusting the Crup forward. Harry and Remus shook her hand, and then, since she was apparently expecting it, they politely shook the Duke's forepaw. Nodding in satisfaction, Elspeth sat down with a thump and placed the Crup on the floor. The Duke wandered over to Remus and draped himself over the werewolf's shoes.
"Molly Weasley sent me an owl earlier informing me that you wanted to purchase a ring for little Ginevra." Elspeth eyed Remus sceptically. "You're a bit old for Ginny, aren't you?"
Remus nearly spit out his tea. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you've got the wrong man," he sputtered.
Elspeth turned her piercing violet eyes on Harry, who tried not to cower in fear. "Hmmm… that's better."
She clapped her hands twice and four house-elves appeared, each carrying a display case full of sparkling rings.
Harry's eyes opened wide. He had never seen so much jewellery in his entire life. He turned to Remus for help, but the older man held up his hands, indicating that he too, was at a loss.
"Tell me," Elspeth barked, causing Harry to jump and spill his tea, "how would you describe your intended?"
Harry blinked in confusion. How would he describe Ginny?
"Erm, well, Ginny's… you know… great."
Seeing her frown, he hastily added, "I mean, she's beautiful and intelligent and feisty and funny and she knows me better than I know myself, and – and – she's…"
He paused to take a breath.
"She's Ginny," he said simply.
He met Elspeth's intense gaze with one of his own.
"I love her."
The old witch's face became wreathed in smiles, her wrinkles rearranging themselves and making her appear much younger. She clapped her hands again and three of the elves disappeared, leaving only one tiny creature to scamper forward with his display case.
"Thank you, Pippi." With a swish and flick of Elspeth's wand, several rings hovered in front of Harry.
"Take a look at these, Mr. Potter, and tell me which one strikes your fancy."
* * *
Ten minutes later, Harry was clutching a receipt for Ginny's ring, having made arrangements for it to be delivered to The Burrow. He was discussing the purchase with Remus when he spotted two redheads waving enthusiastically from across the street. A store window decorated with neon-coloured lights and streamers flashed luridly behind them.
Harry slowly shook his head in disbelief.
Elspeth's Finest Jewellery just had to be located right in front of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
"Harry, m'boy!" George hurried over to them. "And Remus Lupin too!"
"We were going to come over and greet you," said Fred, crossing the street after his twin, "but we saw that you were otherwise engaged."
Harry looked sourly at the Weasleys. "Very funny. Look, could you not tell Ginny you saw me here?" he pleaded, paying no attention to Remus whose shoulders were shaking with suppressed laughter.
"But Harry, why would you want us to do that?"
"You're not hiding something from our sister, are you?"
"… an engagement ring?"
George snatched the receipt from Harry, and he and Fred eagerly scanned it, the latter whistling softly as he saw the amount Harry had spent.
"Fred, this demands that we send Harry and our dear sister on a romantic date so he can propose properly, eh?"
"Absolutely, George. It's the least we can do for our favourite sister and our number one financial investor."
"How about asking Desirée over at Le Petit Cochon for a reservation? She fancies you."
"She does, doesn't she?"
Harry watched for a while as the twins made plans as if he was not there and then he grabbed the receipt from George. "Thanks, but I'd much rather do this on my own, all right? No offence meant."
George slung a friendly arm around his shoulder. "None taken, old chap."
"We'll just see you at The Burrow, then," said Fred.
The twins grinned cheerfully.
"We're staying over for the holidays."
* * *
Harry spent every possible waking moment with Ginny, taking her on long walks by the frozen pond, having meaningful conversations by the fireplace, and generally following the surprisingly astute advice from Ron, who seemed to have memorized The Modern Wizard's Guide to Old-Fashioned Courtship Rituals word for word.
Harry felt like he was getting a second chance in life, and his resolve to marry Ginny grew stronger every day.
Unfortunately, in spite of (or probably because of) the twins' best efforts to provide the perfect ambience, Harry could not find an appropriate moment to propose to Ginny. He finally put his foot down when George almost set Ginny's hair on fire during a failed attempt to arrange a romantic candlelight dinner in the attic.
Christmas Day saw the arrival of the rest of the Weasley family, except for Charlie, who could not get off work, and Percy, who could not get off his high horse. Hermione had also managed to Floo in, saying that she had been allowed to stay for lunch. Ron bashfully gave her a pink camellia before Ginny whisked her away for some giggly girl talk with Tonks, who had come with Remus. Fleur, who was fairly glowing due to her pregnancy, greeted Harry affectionately by kissing him on both cheeks, causing Ginny to glare daggers at the young French woman.
Mrs. Weasley, resplendent in new silver robes that the twins had given her, had clearly outdone herself with the Christmas Feast. An enormous turkey with chestnut stuffing lay at the centre of the table, surrounded by bowls of cranberry sauce, vegetables, roast potatoes, and chipolatas. Harry felt he had no room left for the massive plum pudding that Mrs. Weasley brought out for afters, but the rich, dark pudding proved too tempting, and he helped himself to a generous serving. When he bit into his first spoonful, his teeth clanked against something metallic, and he pulled a silver Sickle from his mouth.
"Oh, well done, Harry," called Mr. Weasley from the head of the table. He looked smashing in the golden crown (with the words "Weasley is our King" written on it) he had insisted on wearing despite his wife's objections. "You get your pudding wish!"
The rest of the table cheered and more than a few knowing glances were thrown his way. Harry sincerely hoped that Mr. Weasley was right. He looked at the vivacious redhead beside him. Ginny smiled and patted his knee, causing warmth to flood through Harry. It was a good thing his green top hat hid his burning ears.
While Mrs. Weasley shooed everyone into the living room, Harry excused himself in order to get Ginny's ring, having decided last evening that he was going to propose to her today.
He swivelled around to see Ginny watching him curiously from the door.
"Um, I just need to use the bathroom," he said evasively. "I'll be back in a tic."
"C'mon, Ginny, Tonks wants to show us the new body piercing she got," said Hermione, who was standing behind the redhead. Harry nodded thankfully at his best friend.
"All right," said Ginny, giving him another questioning look before allowing herself be led away. "Hurry up, Harry. We're about to open presents."
Harry waited until they were out of sight before rushing up the stairs. He rummaged through his trunk until he found the ring, which had arrived the other day via Owl Post. Ron had been duly impressed and immediately began quoting from Valentyn's book, until Harry shut him up by saying he sounded exactly like Hermione gushing about Hogwarts: A History.
The solitaire diamond sparkled brilliantly even in the dim room. Harry felt his heart beat excitedly at the thought of seeing the simple platinum band on Ginny's ring finger.
Carefully placing the ring in his trouser pocket, Harry made his way downstairs, where he was promptly accosted by the twins, who wore matching magenta vicar hats.
"So, can we see it?"
"Yeah, can we?"
Realising that they were effectively blocking the living room door, Harry resignedly pulled out the ring and gave it to Fred, who examined it with an expert eye.
"Good cut, clear colour, flawless clarity," said Fred before he passed it to his brother.
"I'd say about… one and a quarter carat," said George, weighing the ring in his hand. "Excellent." He went down on one knee and addressed Fred in a deep voice. "Ginny, my sublime darling angel, my perfect little dove, will you marry me?"
Fred batted his eyelashes flirtatiously. "Oh, Harry, my handsome and valiant macho man," he answered in a high-pitched voice, "of course I will."
Before Harry could stop him, George slipped the ring onto Fred's little finger.
"No!" Harry cried out.
"No worries, mate. It'll come right off." Fred tugged at the ring, his brow furrowing when he could not remove it.
"It won't come off," said Harry through clenched teeth. "It's been charmed with an anti-theft spell, so that if anyone except the intended recipient puts it on, it'll remain there until the thief is apprehended and the appropriate counterspell is spoken."
A tinny voice, which seemed to be coming from the ring, began to chant, "I belong to Ginny Weasley! I belong to Ginny Weasley!" again and again.
"Finite Incantatem." George tapped the band with his wand, but it stayed obstinately stuck.
"Sorry, that's not it," said Harry smugly.
"I belong to Ginny Weasley! I belong to Ginny Weasley!"
"So place the spell already," moaned Fred, agitatedly pulling at the ring. "I think it's shrinking!"
"I can't." Harry was beginning to enjoy himself. It served the twins right for mucking up his plans. "Only Ginny can reverse the charm, and she can't perform it until I propose to her."
"I belong to Ginny Weasley! I belong to Ginny Weasley!"
"Well, go propose then!" bit out Fred, as his finger began turning purple from lack of circulation.
Harry stuck his hands in his pockets. "I don't know. Maybe I'll wait for tonight. Much more romantic, yeah?" he mused, trying not to laugh at Fred's panicked appearance.
"I belong to Ginny Weasley! I belong to Ginny Weasley!"
"Oh, all right." Harry pointed his wand at Fred's hand. "Laxamentum anellus," he muttered, and the now-silent ring slid smoothly onto his palm, the diamond twinkling up at them.
"You knew the counterspell all along!" accused Fred, rubbing his finger gingerly.
When Harry nodded unrepentantly, George laughed out loud. "Good on you, mate!" he said admiringly.
Fred reluctantly joined in the laughter as the three of them entered the living room. The twins headed straight for Ron and Hermione, who looked very cosy sitting together on the sofa, and Harry made his way to Ginny, who was chatting with her father by the fireplace. Mr. Weasley winked at Harry and moved to join the small group by the wireless.
"Hey, I was getting worried about you," said Ginny.
Her hair shimmered in the firelight. Harry reached out and twirled a russet lock around his finger.
"You're so beautiful," he said reverently.
Ginny smiled shyly. "You're very good at this wooing thing, Harry."
"Yeah?" Harry smiled back. "You reckon I pass your standards?"
"Hmm… I don't know. Depends on what you got me for Christmas," she said teasingly.
Harry took a deep breath. This was it. He removed his top hat and wiped the sweat gathering on his forehead. Merlin, he was nervous. He felt as if his whole body was in a furnace. He looked at Ginny and was puzzled to see that she too, was fanning her red face vigorously with one hand.
In fact, everyone in the room was perspiring heavily. Tonks was peeling off her leather jacket, while Ron and Bill had already removed their heavy sweaters. Hermione's normally bushy hair was plastered limply to her neck. Even perpetually poised Fleur was dabbing at her sticky face with a handkerchief.
Harry glanced outside the window and noted the snow was still falling in thick flurries. So why did it feel like they were in the middle of a heat wave?
"George! Fred!" shrieked Mrs. Weasley. "What in the name of Dumbledore have you done this time?"
* * *
While the twins attempted to correct their rather overzealous attempts at warming charms under the wrathful gaze of their mother, the rest of the family and guests scarpered back to the kitchen where, thankfully, the temperature was at a more comfortable level.
Harry, down to his shirtsleeves, however, led Ginny away from the rabble and to the blessed privacy of the attic.
"What are we doing here, Harry? We're missing the celebration downstairs."
"I wanted to give you your Christmas present in private." He pushed several boxes and trunks aside then transfigured an old blanket into a comfortable sofa for them to sit on.
"Oh, but I left yours in the living room," she protested. "I'll go get it."
Harry covered her hand with his to prevent her from leaving. She turned an inquiring eye on him. "Harry?"
He cleared his throat and began speaking softly. "Ginny, I hope that you know by now how much I care for you."
She nodded mutely, her eyes huge in her face.
"The time I've spent away from you – it felt like I was living someone else's wretched life, you know? The only times I've been truly happy were when we were together at Hogwarts, and during the past several days that I've had the privilege of spending with you."
Harry dug into his pocket and brought out the diamond ring. Ginny gave a small gasp.
"Ginny, I don't ever want to be that miserable again. I can't promise to be the best husband in the world because I'm probably too stubborn and thick-headed for that to happen."
He held out the ring to her, his heart in his eyes. "But I can promise I'll love you forever, and if you'll have me, I promise to take care of you always."
Ginny stared at him in silence for a moment before she hesitantly said, "Harry, when I told you that you had to woo me, it wasn't because I was expecting a proposal or anything. You know that, right?"
Harry nodded once, beginning to feel the first stirrings of unease.
"I only wanted to make sure that you were really serious about wanting us to be a couple again. I didn't want my heart broken a second time."
Harry could not blame Ginny for her apparent misgivings, but felt that he had to prove to her that he was serious about his desire to marry her.
"Ginny, I've made some mistakes before, and to be honest with you, I wasn't too certain about this whole marriage thing. But these last few days..." He gestured expressively with his hands, his face earnest. "Well, there's no doubt in my mind that I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
"Oh Harry…" Ginny bit her lip, her eyes suspiciously bright.
"And since you're going to be helping now, I expect this whole Voldemort business will be over quite soon," he said optimistically.
"And I know that we're still a bit young, but we don't have to get married right away… we – we could have a long engagement."
"A really, really, really long one. As long as you want."
"I can wait." He looked at her hopefully. "I'm good at waiting."
"Are you quite finished?" asked Ginny wryly, a combination of exasperation and amusement in her brown eyes.
He blushed and nodded sheepishly.
"Thank Merlin." She rolled her eyes and chuckled. "I didn't say I was refusing, you daft boy. My ring, please?"
Harry reverentially slid the platinum band onto the ring finger of her left hand. Ginny admired it for several seconds before she threw her arms around him.
"Of course I'll marry you, Harry," she whispered, pulling back and tenderly stroking his cheek. "My heart is, and always will be, yours."
Happiness inundated Harry's entire being, and he looked wonderingly at her smiling face. He bent his head and captured her lips, feeling like he had finally, truly come home. He deepened the kiss, opening her supple mouth with a gentle touch of his tongue, and was soon drowning in the utterly delicious phenomenon that was Ginny Weasley.
When they finally broke apart, she buried her face in the crook of his neck. "I love you, Harry."
"I love you too, Ginny," he replied, running his hands through her silky hair.
He was startled when she shook her head forcefully.
"What's wrong?" he asked, concerned that not five minutes of them getting back together, he had already somehow managed to bollocks things up.
She lifted her head and pulled a face. "Well, you gave me this absolutely lovely ring, and all I got you is a subscription to Quidditch Illustrated."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "That's quite all right. I'm sure it's a bloody marvellous subscription," he said, kissing her on the nose. "Besides," he murmured in her ear, "you already gave me the best Christmas present of all."
He felt Ginny shiver as his lips brushed against the sensitive spot just beneath her jaw line.
"What's that, Harry?"
A/N: As always, thank you to Chreechree for everything, especially for the insight into Harry's thoughts about the Horcrux hunt and his decision to break things off with Ginny. My gratitude also, to the lovely Leiselily, who so willingly answered my rather pesky questions about British customs. And lastly, I must thank Ms Diana Wynne Jones for writing the fantastic Chrestomanci series, including Charmed Life, which is where I got the idea (no copyright infringement intended) for the anti-theft charm on Ginny's ring.
Thanks to Sherry, my fantastic PS beta.
There's a line here from the movie version of Sense and Sensibility. Can you spot it?